In in their book, Start-up nation, the story of Israel’s economic miracle, authors Dan slater and Saul Singer, assert that the success of Israel’s military and entrepreneurship rests on the doctrine of chutzpah or boldness.
The authors say this daring is common “in the way university students speak with their professors, employees challenge their bosses, sergeants question their generals, and clerks second-guess government ministers.
But the Israelis also tolerate constructive failures or intelligent failures as long as the move was not taken recklessly because there is always something to learn from the failures to improve business innovations, or war tactics.
In sum, the Israelis do not cheerlead one excessively for a good performance, neither do they finish off one permanently for a bad performance.
This, exactly is, what this article seeks to uncover about the current muddled leadership in Acholi.
The Acholi are proud and loud, but have been exposed as a group without a uniting leadership.
This weakness was laid bare by the illness and demise of former Speaker of Parliament, Jacob L’Okori Oulanyah.
Oulanyah’s demise also uncovered the trust deficit and skin-deep love affair between the Acholi and the NRM government. Once Oulanyah fell critically ill and passed on, both these leadership gaps and trust deficit were rudely exposed.
Pleas on Kitgum-based Mighty Fire FM by Foreign Affairs junior minister Oryem Okello to the Acholi, not to feed on conspiracies coming off social media about what could have killed Oulanyah, fell on deaf ears.
Only last year, Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo warned the Acholi against rushing to blame government for every high profile death of their sons in government. He warned that causes of such deaths can be multiple or could even come from unsuspected quarters as did happen with Brig Pierino Okoya, a former top Uganda Army commander, who was confessedly gunned down by our own kinsman.
But the demise of Oulanyah only stoked more conspiracy theories as photomontage of key Acholi personalities who have served in government and have died in quick successions were shared on social media.
Even the composition of the team that made a lightning flight to visit the Speaker in a hospital in Seattle, USA, became a subject of contention.
The team included Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, the highest Acholi in government and a close friend of Oulanyah and largely trusted by the Acholi. Another was Norbert Mao, another high politician from Acholi and long-time friend of Oulanyah. Both Owiny-Dollo and Mao are considered to have had the best interests of Oulanyah and those of their Acholi people.
Jane Ruth Aceng, both a government minister and daughter of the land, was expected to relay a credible medical opinion. Then there was Parliament’s institutional representative, Deputy Speaker Annet Anita Among, and Oulanyah’s own brother, Francis Emuna.
This team, one would hazard to suggest, was carefully selected, but some critics were still quick to point to the omission of the central plank of Acholi leadership, the Ker Kwal Kwaro and its MPs.
Nominally, the Acholi have a paramount chief who unites all chiefdoms in the land and can be said to be the titular head of the Acholi. The second most prominent hierarchy is the Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG).
Another respected lot and often free from undue bias are the big clerics in the ecumenical Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI).
But the last two groups were sidestepped, yet the logic of balance and trust would have dictated that one of the two institutions would have been closely involved or included in the itinerary. This omission exposed the select team to the perception of ‘those favourably inclined’ to stick to the ‘official narrative’.
The team’s narratives were not helped by their conflicting accounts of the state of health of Speaker Oulanyah in his final days in the west coast city Seattle, USA.
And as expected, this was to fuel the doubts of the conspirators, who would in all probability dismiss the team’s accounts of the cause of death of the Speaker, and they did.
Given the above noise in communication, the conspirators were even more energized by the repeated tearful declaration by Mzee Nathan Okori, who told the media that his son had confessed to him that he was poisoned through tea served to him in Kampala.
This testament, by any account, is very difficult to dismiss. Moreover, this proclamation was reinforced only days later when Mzee Okori again told the media that he was receiving phone call threats for his declaration of the cause of death of his son.
By the time Rwot Achana came into the picture to task government to carry out an exhaustive inquest into the causes of death of top Acholi sons in government to satisfy the doubters, the land was bleeding with raw emotions over claims of causes of successive deaths of Col Ochora, Maj Gen Oketta, RDC Capt Okot Lapolo, Gen Paul Lokech, and now Parliament Speaker Oulanyah.
No central leadership
Perhaps the biggest tragedy for Acholi community has been the absence of any central leadership and mainstreamed communication. This lack of a binding leadership and a united voice has left the community in disarray.
Mzee Okori was left weeping alone, with Rwot Achana burdened with voicing the collective sorrow of his chiefdoms, with MPS talking over their umbrella voice, the APG. Even worse, social media was left freewheeling with screams and torrents of conspiracies and biting funeral songs.
By the time Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo and DP President Mao appeared in the north on Gulu-based Mega FM radio to call for restrain, order and calm, the damage had been done and was irreparable.
The accusations and insinuations against the State were sharp and stung the government hard. This forced President Museveni and the Uganda Police Force to warn that such conspirators would be hunted and arrested and asked to declare who could have killed Oulanyah, as they claim.
Overall, the questions about the series of deaths should have been better challenged.
But the boss-around government reaction was miscalculated as it beefed up the conspiracy theories.
The government could have best responded first-time, as Dr Jackson Orem of Uganda Cancer Institute later did; coolly by producing and citing credible medical history of illnesses and postmortems to shoot down the claims. But the government was sluggish and our singers stepped into the vacuum to make sense of the recurring tragedy among their own bigwigs in government leadership.
Spontaneous funeral songs
Worth noting here is that luwer or singers, like the nanga poets through the generations, are the singing consciousness of society. They are the mirror of society and what they sing about is what their society celebrates or cherishes, or even questions, or fears or abhors.
In sum, the singers are the pulse of the Acholi society and their songs are both therapeutic vents and can be used as barometers of emotional pressure of their society.
In this case, the State only had to listen to the lamentations that were composed following Oulanyah’s tragic demise in order to construct a befitting response to an emotionally stirred up community. But none was forthcoming except a domineering response to silence rather than attend to the issues the songs were flagging.
In sum, by the State choosing a shut-up order rather than address the issues the songs were flagging, the State and its officials failed the cultural, emotional, and perception test to respond to a grieving community.
Similarly, the noise, fights and conspiracies would have been avoided if Acholi had generated consensus through a central, credible and trusted leadership that can call to order its people and can structure a collective plea to issues or crises that confront its people and can communicate clearly and with authority to the central government.
This gap was, therefore, left to be filled by conspirators with the so-called misperception or incorrect assumptions of cause of death.
Lack of recognizable, legitimate authority
As Okello Lucima wrote in Wang-OO, a premier Acholi WhatsApp group, this “disorganization in Acholi is both telling and appalling”, and indeed, “is a scorching indictment of the kind and quality of leadership we have in Acholi, and by extension, Uganda.”
This disorder in Acholi contrasts sharply with the solid organisation of Buganda, which always has a centralized, well-thought out and weighted responses to critical issues such as land and political contention that affect the kingdom.
Even in this instance of the noise, fights, conspiracies and fallout over the death of Oulanyah, which threatened to mar the fraternal relations between Buganda and Acholi, it was left to that essential, institutionalized, credible and trusted Buganda Kingdom leadership that rose above the fray to provide an official narrative, defuse the situation and provided ground for an amicable resolution.
The courteous commiseration to the Acholi by the Buganda Katikkiro on the death of Speaker Oulanyah elicited an equally gracious compromise by Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo. These two warm gestures were cemented by a high-level follow up visit to Mengo to meet Buganda Kingdom officials to mend relations between the Chief Justice and Mengo leadership and by extension between Acholi and Buganda.
Going forward, the call for level-headedness by Okello Lucima would be best suited for us now.
“Let people [in Acholi] calm down, relax and be more circumspect and introspective [in such circumstances]. Let us be humble and accept some particular voices with recognizable authority and legitimacy to speak on our behalf, in a more orderly and deliberative manner. Humility, peace and love in times of crisis is the best posture.”